When I joined the March on Milwaukee 50th Anniversary Coordinating Committee in June of 2016, I had no idea learning at the feet of the elders meant I would become a privileged keeper of both their stories and, in some ways, their failed dreams. Over the course of learning about the history of the marches, I and the other “young” (i.e., those born after 1968) members of the coordinating committee have had a chance to experience what historian Manning Marable referred to “living Black history,” to place Black historical narratives at the center and to, consequently, see how these histories can and have shaped the course of Milwaukee’s past, present and future.
Witnessing the living Black history of the original marchers has often meant learning details about the marches from original marchers and coordinating committee members, such as NAACP Youth Commandos Prentice McKinney and Fred Reed, NAACP Youth Council member Dr. Shirley Butler and Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Rozga, who married Father Groppi after he left the priesthood. I learned some of the marchers, like current Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore, snuck out of their bedroom windows in order to participate in the movement. Or that my own husband’s grandmother, Juanita Adams, who marched for fair housing and the desegregation of Milwaukee Schools while six months pregnant, pushed her body against the pouring spout of a cement truck to prevent the building of a segregated school.